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Posts Tagged ‘Stanford University’

After I graduated from high school, I left Idaho for Stanford University.  I was a student there from 1971-1975.  In many ways, those were some of the best years of my life.  Stanford was the first place where I experienced what it’s like to be part of a community, to have friends who truly care about me.  At the same time, I also was very depressed during much of my time there, isolating myself from the very friends who I knew could most help me out of that dark place.  Although mostly repressed, my gender dysphoria was still present during those years, revealing itself to me, but never to others, in various ways during those years.

I’ve stayed connected with several friends from my freshman dorm (*waves to Pam, Kevin, Rob, Bruce, Anne, Jon and Hilarie*), but I’ve only been back to the campus a few times since I graduated.  Before I transitioned last year, I wanted my friends to know about me, so I sent an email to dorm buddies telling them about my plans.  In response, I received unconditional support from them all, for which I count myself very fortunate.  Although there have been questions, the support and love has continued just as it did before.

Stanford is very diligent about maintaining contact with its alumni, so I still receive Stanford Magazine regularly, and I always read the “Class Notes” section for news of my friends and classmates.  Every month after my transition, I would wonder about somehow announcing my transition and change of name there.  Until a few months ago, however, I never knew quite how to go about it and the time never felt quite right.

Then, in the May/June issue this year, there was an article about the support given to transgender students on campus and the addition of “gender identity” to Stanford’s nondiscrimination policy.  Seeing that article, I knew that it was time to share my transition.  Before that article, I had never seen the word “transgender” mentioned in any official Stanford publication, nor had I ever read of any other transition in the Class Notes.  But I wanted both current students, and my classmates, to know that it’s OK to be trans and that, wherever they are, they’re not alone.  Thus, not long after that article appeared, I contacted the “class correspondent” for the Stanford Class of 1975 and shared my story.  The result is this addition to our “Class Notes” in the November/December issue of Stanford Magazine:

Following up on the article on transgender students in the May/June issue of Stanford, one of our classmates was inspired to share her story. Abby [Abigail] Louise Jensen writes, “While I was at Stanford and until last year, my name was Sherman Jensen. On May 10, 2007, I legally changed my name. Four days later, I transitioned, finally and forever, to live as a woman. It’s the best decision I ever made for myself and has brought me more peace and joy than I have ever experienced.

“After graduation, I worked fighting forest fires for the U.S. Forest Service and as a civil rights investigator for the Idaho Human Rights Commission; received a law degree from Boalt Hall Law School (Class of 1982); worked 12 years in Seattle as an associate and partner at Garvey, Schubert & Barer, along with Soto dormmate Rob Spitzer; had three beautiful daughters; got divorced and moved to Prescott, Ariz. Since 1997, I have worked as a sole practitioner doing criminal appeals and state post-conviction proceedings as court-appointed counsel for indigent criminal defendants, where I’ve had some success in changing the law of Arizona to be fairer for all.

“At Stanford, I did my best to suppress any thoughts of who I knew myself to be, even then. Nonetheless, I remember distinctly one afternoon spent hiding among the shelves in Meyer Library looking at books containing pictures of genital reassignment surgery. I suspect that’s not an experience that many of our classmates share. Beginning in 2005, the gender dysphoria that I struggled with since I was very young began to assert itself, leading to my transition last year to living the rest of my life as a woman. I have been fortunate to have escaped the harassment and discrimination that many who follow this path experience. In particular, I am grateful for the loving support I have received from the other Soto dormmates with whom I’ve stayed in contact: Pam Franks, Anne Watson, Kevin Wright Enright, Hilarie Hathaway Pierce, MA ’75, Jon Levin, ’76, and Bruce Williams, as well as Rob Spitzer.

“As my transition progressed, as well as my increasing interest in civil rights issues, I have become involved in advocating for fair treatment of LGBT people. In December 2007, I appeared before the Scottsdale, Ariz., City Council and spoke on behalf of the Arizona Transgender Alliance in support of proposed city ordinances banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. That night, Scottsdale became only the fourth Arizona city (after Tucson, Tempe and Phoenix) to enact a ban on such discrimination in city employment. In addition, to the best of my knowledge, last year, I became the first attorney to argue before the Arizona Supreme Court as both a man and a woman. Both of those appearances, as well as all my other court appearances since my transition, have been handled with dignity and respect by both the judges and my fellow attorneys.

“Finally, I joined the board of directors of and became president of QsquaredYouth, Inc., a nonprofit organization that provides support, education and advocacy for LGBTQ youth in Yavapai County, and the Board of Directors of the Prescott Area Women’s Shelter. I am now hoping to move on from my current career to a position where I can devote my time and energy to improving the lives of LGBTQ people.” Abby, thank you for sharing your personal experience with our classmates.

It will be interesting to see what kind of response I get. I’m listed under my current name on the Stanford Alumni website (my first name is Abigail, although I go by Abby), so it should be relatively easy for any of my classmates, other Stanford alums, or students to contact me, and I would certainly be interested in hearing from any and all of them (as long as they remain respectful, that is).

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Well, a friend and fellow blogger has tagged me with one of those chain letter/blog thingy’s. Although there’s a bit of political motive here, I like the ideas behind it: to honor 8 others whose blogs I love to read, and to list 8 places in the United States where I’d love to live. So, here’s the task:

Where Would Your 8 Homes Be?

List them. You don’t have to list your reasons, but if you do at least for a few of them, it would be more fun. And remember that the only rule is: the homes must be within the borders of the United States of America or else, within the borders of the country you live in, so as to utterly emulate the McCains. When you’re done, tag 8 people, so that they may join in the self-indulgence, forgetting about the crappy property market and the equivalent of The End of Pompeii on Wall-Street. You could spend your time hammering your doors and windows shut in preparation for the apocalypse instead, but it would be much less fun.

First, my eight bloggers, in no particular order are: Lisa Harney, Questioning Transphobia; Leith, aka riftgirl, Being T; Allyson Robinson, Crossing the T; Callan; Lori, Lori’s Revival; Keri Renault, Words that Transcend; Autumn Sandeen, The View from (Ab)Normal Heights; Sonora Sage, Reflected Wisdom.

Where would I love to live? These are some of my favorite places:

(1) Swan Valley, Idaho lies along the South Fork of the Snake River, one of the premier flyfishing streams in the U.S. Actually, the Snake is a major river, but it’s full of islands and small braids, so, even though it is also one of the most heavily fished rivers in the U.S., it still retains a wonderful intimacy. But most of all, I love this place because I spent many wonderful days on the river with my father before he passed on, with my children, and just by myself floating along becoming part of the river and its life.

(2) Stanley Basin, Idaho. Nestled at the foot of the Sawtooth Mountains, which aren’t as tall but are just as beautiful, if not more so, than the Tetons along the Idaho/Wyoming border, this is one of the most beautiful places in the country. Although this area is growing and changing like everywhere else in the West, it’s isolation, high altitude, extreme winters, and land use restrictions resulting from Congress’ creation of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area in 1972, have kept its most important values, and vistas, intact.

When I was young, my family spent many wonderful times in this area camping and fishing. They are some of the best memories of my childhood. While still in college, I spent two summers here working for the U.S. Forest Service, which was hard to beat for a summer job. That experience led me to realize one of my lifelong dreams of fighting forest fires, and, later, being a smokejumper. (Yes, I was one of those crazy “guys” – yes, we were all guys; the Forest Service was only just beginning to allow women on fire crews back then – who jumped out of perfectly good airplanes to fight forest fires. If you look closely at the roster here, you’ll find me listed, although my name is slightly different. For some reason, I didn’t make the crew photo for that year, though. That’s probably for the best, at this point. Although it’s kind of tempting to register as a member on the McCall smokejumper website and stake my claim as the first woman smokejumper in the U.S.)

Even better, I have seen been back to the Stanley Basin with my own children, camping in the exact same camp spot as my family when I was young, hiking and fishing in some of the same spots. The day that all three of my daughters and I spent flyfishing on the Salmon River below Stanley was an experienced I never anticipated. Those, too, are memories to be treasured.

(3) Seattle, Washington. I lived in Seattle for 12 years after law school. Seattle is a beautiful city, vibrant and diverse. You can find any type of neighborhood you could ever want there.

It didn’t turn out to be the best place for me, though, at least, not at that time. I crashed and burned in my job from depression and unacknowledged gender dysphoria, my marriage got continually worse, and my wife moved from alcoholism to IV drug addiction. We moved away (to Montana) in 1994, my wife OD’d (but survived, thankfully) a couple months later, and my marriage (and my life) fell apart. It’s an experience I would never wish on anyone, but it’s what it took to get me to where, and who, I am today. For that, I will always be grateful.

(4) Livingston, Montana. Livingston is where we moved to from Seattle. I only lived there for 5 months, but my ex and my daughters lived there for another 4 years. Livingston lies right on the Yellowstone River where it turns east after running north out of Yellowstone Park for about 50 miles. Livingston is an interesting mix of art galleries, fly fishing shops and traditional, small-town Montana life, what with celebrities like Steven Seagal and others living in Paradise Valley south of there along the Yellowstone. It also offers easy access to world-class flyfishing. (Anyone notice a theme here?)

(5) Stanford, California. I attended Stanford University in the early ‘70’s. (Yes, I am that old.) Stanford and the nearby Palo Alto area is one of the most idyllic urban locales in the country. I would have loved to stay in the Bay Area (I went to UC Berkeley – Boalt Hall for law school a few years later), but I knew I didn’t want to work as hard as I would have to, to be able to afford to live there, so I’ve only been back a few times.

(6) Prescott, Arizona. I’ve lived in Prescott since 1995 (except for a short and disastrous year and a half when I moved to the Chandler/Mesa area (Phoenix suburbs) as part of an ill-fated romance). I never intended to stay in Prescott, but it’s turned out to be a good place for me. If I have to live in Arizona, I can’t think of a better place to be (except maybe Tucson – see below). Prescott is in the mountains at 5300’ right at the boundary between the ponderosa pine forest and the high mountain chaparral. It’s a delightful place to live, if a mite conservative politically. There are a few of us here, however, that are anything but conservative.

(7) Eugene, Oregon. We visited friends in Eugene several times while we lived in Seattle. It’s a wonderful place with the University of Oregon, plenty of old-style hippie culture, mountains, lakes, flyfishing, and the Oregon coast only a short drive away. It’s a tempting place to live, even now.

(8) Tucson, Arizona. As I wrote before, I’m thinking about moving to Tucson. I have lots of good friends there (*waves to Lori and Liz*), they have a vibrant LGBT community, including a large and active trans community, the University of Arizona ensures an ongoing mix of cultural offerings, and it’s the most liberal community – politically and culturally – in Arizona. If I can figure out a way to pay for the move, it’s probably where I’m going to end up next.

Thanks, my friend, for leading me gently down this road of looking back at my past and forward to my future, and remembering some of the things that are important to me.

OK, so what about the rest of you. Where would you live, and why?

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